Each Wednesday, I post my response to a question from the Redefining Disability Challenge. This is my response to the fortieth question in the Challenge. As usual, I am not looking ahead to future questions, so I may inadvertently address some topics which will come up later in the Challenge. Here is this week’s question:
Are you involved in any political or social activities related to having a disability? This could be anything from an advocacy group to an informal social gathering to participation in adaptive sports.
I have always been an active advocate for disability rights. I have spoken publicly about disability issues since I was a child, and continue to remain engaged as an adult.
Sadly, one of the ways I remain engaged is overlooked by the majority of Americans with disabilities – the power to vote. In my mind, voting is one of the most important ways we can become involved in the political process. As soon as I was old enough to vote, I registered with the Board of Elections. I vote each year, not just for large national elections.
Because of my current job with a disability organization, I have frequent contact with local elected representatives. I attend rallies and legislative action days with the Consumer Directed Personal Asssistance Association of NYS (CDPAANYS), the statewide membership association for agencies that assist people who use consumer directed personal assistance for their homecare. Through my involvement with CDPAANYS, I have met other advocates from across the state and developed a stronger peer support network.
I encourage other people with disabilities to become involved in advocacy using whatever methods feel comfortable to them. Some people like to write letters or make phone calls. Others like to go visit their elected officials for meetings. A few activists are willing to be arrested to make a political statement.
When you become involved in advocacy, you make it easier for your elected officials to know how issues impact real people – their constituents and people who vote. I know the man who represents my district in the New York State Assembly. I have been to his office at least once a year since he was elected and see him frequently at events. I send him emails when I notice he has supported legislation important to people with disabilities. He has also reached out to me by email to notify me when pieces of legislation have passed. This relationship would not be possible if I were not regularly engaged in advocacy activities.
In addition to my advocacy efforts through my employer, I am involved in activities at a local independent living center, the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley (ILCHV). I have participted in two writing classes hosted by the ILCHV. Not only was I able to practice memoir writing and photojournalism, but I made new friends and developed a deeper understanding of discrimination experienced by those who live with invisible disabilities. I am a stronger advocate due to these relationships.
Nothing makes an impact like a personal story. Hearing an individual’s experience allows us to personalize an issue which may seem abstract. Sure, it sounds great to say all sidewalks should have curb cuts. But when a person tells you they can’t get off their block because the sidewalk does not have a curb cut, the issue changes dimension.
I speak out whenever I can because I am in a position to do so. When I do, I always remember I am exercising my rights because others paved the way for me to do so. I advocate for others who are unable to because keeping quiet would be a wasted opportunity.